Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Return to where it began...

Some of you may have heard I'm working part-time at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Some of you may also know that is where I started working when I moved down from Iowa way back in '79. Back then, with a shiny new astronomy and physics degree, KPNO recruited me to join the technical group at the Observatory, After a little more than 5 years I moved to the University of Arizona and got into optics, but I really enjoyed working and living on the Mountain. Other than a stint as a docent in the early '90s, this is my first time back on a regular basis.

I've kept my day job at the Mirror Lab, but one night a week, I join the crew at the Visitor Center where they run a nightly observing program (NOP) for the public. We serve a multitude of duties, but serve as a liaison to the Observatory, part time tour guide to the history and operations that go on, as well as sky guide, telescope operator and astronomy instructor. All that stuff is easy for me - the hardest part for me is the administrative stuff - running the cash register and other store operations, things I've never done or worried about before... So far it has been a lot of fun - the people (both staff and the public) are great, the equipment top notch, and the one night per week under the stars has certainly scratched the observing itch I get. Melinda and I haven't been out with our own scopes since November! Those Thursday nights after a work day at the Mirror Lab does make for a long day, though!

Work nights there are generally pretty hectic without much time for anything but the program. But there have been a couple opportunities to get up for some extracurricular imaging - not through the telescope, but of sky and domes, a favorite subject of mine. Most of the shots here are single images from a sequence that will eventually find their way into video clips, likely posted on Youtube. Look for that in the near future. This night time shot of the Visitor Center is a 20 second exposure under the light of a quarter moon. The 20" telescope is open for the NOP, and the 4-meter dome is visible in the distance. Polaris, the North Star, is visible over the 20" dome, with Vega and the constellation Lyra visible rising on the right side of the frame.

First up are a sunset, moonset pair. The sunset was taken with a 200mm at full zoom, the moon through a little 80mm Meade telescope of 480mm focal length. The sunsets are a popular feature of every NOP, and since I started working in January, it has been fascinating how much of the western horizon the disk of the sun has covered in it's northward journey. The moonset was a tougher project - taken on a gusty night, the sky was hazy enough that 1 second exposures were needed as the crescent moon approached the horizon over what I think is the village of Quijotoa, about 35 miles northwest of the Observatory out in the Tohono O'Odham Reservation.

The last exposures are all about 20 second exposures with fast lenses. First up is the 2.1 meter telescope on the south side of the mountain. The great globular cluster Omega Centauri has just cleared the dome, and visible just a little above it is the bright radio galaxy Centaurus A. The only illumination is light pollution from Tucson (to the left), and natural airglow. The other exposures are of the 4-meter and 90 telescopes up on the north side of the mountain under the light of a crescent moon. Repeating from above, these are individual frames from a sequence of a few hundred taken for a video sequence. More coming up on another Kitt Peak topic!

1 comment:

David A. Harvey said...

Great Stuff Dean! Can't wait for the vids.